Let us begin by defining what trauma really is.
There are many definitions of trauma, but the one I find easy to understand is the definition provided by the American Psychological Association (APA). Trauma was defined as the “emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster”. Other events adds to the list of terrible events already provided by APA – death to a loved one, personal illness or illness of a loved one, domestic violence, kidnapping, hostage situation, and witnessing acts of violence (For example some individuals that saw the plane smash into the building during the 9/11 attacks were traumatized, so were individuals that watched it on television even without being there physically).
While the source of trauma can be majorly considered to be physical, there are also psychological sources such as embarrassment, abandonment, harassment, emotionally abusive relationships, bullying, segregation, and a host of others. Trauma can even develop when individuals are exposed to long term verbal abuse, poverty, or insecurity.
Based on our understanding of trauma, it points that emotional responses to these terrible events may be severe and interfere with the daily functioning of a person, even having a lasting effect on the victor’s mental and emotional stability. Help is needed to restore such individual(s) to balance.
Immediate Impact of Trauma
The immediate impacts of trauma can be referred to as the acute response. The acute response involves the mind and body’s response immediately after the event. These responses includes, but not limited to, confusion, fear, panic, agitation, or amnesia. Another important response is ‘dissociation’, also referred to emotional numbing, freezing, and self distancing, has been linked to the long term negative impact of trauma. Some people may also develop Acute Stress Disorder (ASD), a disorder with recurring symptoms that lasts up to four weeks.
Long-Term Impact of Trauma
Not everyone that is exposed to a source of trauma would develop a long-term impact of trauma such as PTSD. None withstanding, trauma can cause a lasting impact on the victor’s mental and emotional stability. Certain factors such as pre-existing mental or physical health difficulties increases the tendency of being traumatized. Young children are especially vulnerable to trauma and should be psychologically examined after a traumatic event for their emotional well-being. There is a tendency for people to assume children are not affected because “what do they really know”. Don’t fall into that trap. Schedule an appointment after a traumatic event.
Signs of a Person Struggling With Trauma
Here are the basic signs to determine if a person is struggling with the psychological effects of trauma. It is important to note that individuals respond to traumatic events in different ways, this is not an exhaustive list. Firstly, they tend to appear shaken and disoriented, and may not respond to conversations in their normal accustomed way, seem withdrawn, forget what they were saying, and appear not to be even present while speaking.
A second sign could be anxiety symptoms. Anxiety can be manifested in different ways such as flashbacks, nightmares, irritability, aggressiveness, uneasiness, mood swings and concentration difficulties.
In addition, there may also be difficulties regulating emotions, including persistent sadness, suicidal thoughts and anger. There may also be emotional symptoms such as denial, anger, sadness and inappropriate emotional outbursts. They are likely to exhibit signs such as feelings of helplessness, shame, guilt, stigma, and a sense of being different or changed. These overwhelming emotions can be directed towards close persons such as family and friends.
Moreover, there are also physical manifestations of trauma. These include paleness, fatigue, and a racing heartbeat. The physical symptoms of trauma can be as real and alarming as those of physical injury or illness, and should not be taken for granted. There may be episodes of overwhelming panic attacks that they become unable to function in certain circumstances.
When applicable, there may be strong desire for revenge or unconscious attribution of total power to the perpetrator (one of the likely explanations why some rape victims are preoccupied with their relationship with the rapist and keeps going back for further abuse).
There is also a tendency to desire isolation, distrust people and need for a continuous search for a rescuer even after they are no longer at risk. There are also variations in ways the individual may forget part, full, or certain details of the event.
Symptoms for children may be similar but also include behavioral problems, poor impulse control, pathological self-soothing (through dysfunctional coping mechanism such as self-cutting), and sleep problems.
How to Ensure Trauma Doesn’t Last Forever
The best way to achieve this is by ensuring you, or such individuals get professional help. Professional help can come in different ways:
Therapy for trauma is set to achieve three major goals
- Improve your symptoms
- Teach you skills to deal with it
- Restore your self-esteem
There are many approaches used to achieve these goals. Strategies may include one or the combination of any of these approaches – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Trauma-Focused CBT, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, Play Therapy, and a host of others. There is no best approach, and no one size fits all. You can schedule an appointment to speak to a verified therapist.
Medications prescribed for the psychological effects of trauma are focused at balancing neurotransmitters triggered during the fight or flight during trauma. The brains of people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) process “threats” differently. Their threshold for the fight – flight response implicated during a traumatic event is lowered. Constantly trying to shut that down to avoid memories or challenges associated with trauma could lead to feeling emotionally cold and unproductive, thus, the need for medication. You can schedule an appointment to speak to a verified psychiatrist.
After a trauma, you don’t not need to live in isolation. It may seem more natural to feel alone and withdraw, but joining a support group has great benefits. Support groups helps you connect with others who have similar challenges. This gives you the feeling that you re not alone, and also affords you access to various resources and information to help you heal. Do you need to join a support group? Send us a message.
All effects of trauma can take place either over a short period of time or over the course of weeks, months, or even years. Any psychological effects of trauma should be addressed immediately to prevent its long-term effects.
Trauma is difficult for your loved ones as well. You may redirect the overwhelming emotions towards friends or family members. It is hard to help someone who pushes you away, truly it is. However, understanding the emotional symptoms that come after a traumatic event can help ease the process. The sooner the trauma is addressed, the better chance for a full recovery.